Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Where's God When We Need Him Most?

Dear Friends,

Americans are saying that they are more stressed than ever before. Even with good, steady jobs we can feel overworked, undervalued, underpaid, unappreciated and go home at night stressed and exhausted. And there’s still the shopping, cleaning, paying bills, medical problems, pets, people, noisy neighbors, church responsibilities, phone calls, tv, internet, laundry, children and grandchildren. Even the enjoyable things in life can seem overwhelming at times. And now COVID-19 is attacking our health and race riots are attacking our communities. A recent survey showed that 61% of us are more stressed and 45% of us are more depressed than usual. 48% are worried that we will get the Coronavirus and 62% of us are anxious about a family member or loved one getting it. Over half of us are still worried that we’ll run out of food or medicine. A neighbor asked me last week, "Where's God when we need Him most?"

We search for relief from life – for comfort. We know there’s someOne who can help. But where is He in the middle of our suffering? When we need Him the most? But are we searching for God when we already have more of Him than we could ever ask for, hope for, or imagine?

We only search for what we have already experienced. We only search for that which is missing, and it’s impossible to miss something that never existed for us. That means that in our fervent search for God’s presence in our life, we are searching for something that we already abundantly have.

Augustine was a bishop, a Christian theologian and one of the early Church Fathers of our faith. He wrote about God, “You were within me but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for You. Created things kept me from You.”

God is already within us. 1 Cor 3:16 NLT Jesus Christ lives within every believer and the Holy Spirit gives us life. Romans 8:10-11 NLT The Apostle Peter said if you repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus, then you will receive the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:38 And Augustine reminds that, while God is within each one of us, there are things that we do which reveal His presence and things we do that distract us and quench His presence. Life happens and despite our best efforts to hang onto our faith, we can become distracted by the created things and we no longer see the Creator within. 

A few years ago, I worked a high-stress, nine hour per day job that kept me so busy I was either working or thinking about work. In my “spare time,” I spent another 20-30 hours per week devoted to ministry and church business. Whenever I got to the end of my mental health rope, I needed to go to my sanctuary – the monastery.

Saint Andrew’s Abbey is a monastery in Valyermo and I used to think of it as the place where I could always go to meet God. In this holy place, it was as if God was waiting for me and I could always find Him there. Then the Holy Spirit gave me a completely different understanding of His presence. 

When I step on to those old monastery grounds at the base of the San Gabriel mountains, I’m stepping off the hamster wheel of life. When I sit, still and quiet beside the lake, and breathe the sagebrush scented air, the clutter of created things falls away. When I open my Bible to read, I come into His presence. But I see now that God is not waiting for me to come and join Him in the sanctuary of the monastery. I brought Him with me in the sanctuary of my heart. He’s been there within me all along but I’d buried Him under the stressors of my life. And in that quiet and holy place at the monastery, all those “created things” that had been keeping me from Him were stripped away.

Many people say that they “Go to church to meet God” as if He “lives” there in that building and just as we go to a friend’s house to visit them, we go to God’s house to visit Him. But God’s not waiting for us in church. We bring Him along with us. God has never left us nor forsaken us and the worship service simply fosters an awareness of Him that brings us into His presence. Our church doors have been closed for many months and, for some with any preexisting medical condition, may be closed for much longer. That’s why we need to find our own sanctuary. 

Where is your holy place? Your garden? The front porch? The chair by the window? That sacred space where the clutter of your life falls away to reveal the Heavenly Father within. Where you come into His presence and just rest awhile. Augustine wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”

Are you searching for the One who has already found you? Just stop what you’re doing for a moment. Take a deep breath and set everything aside. When all the created things have been stripped away, you’ll find Him. Waiting for you. In the sanctuary of your heart.  Amen?

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